One of the things that intrigues and excites me the most about surfski paddling is the many dimensions to the sport that all come together to ultimately determine how well you will perform. All these dimensions ensure you’ll never be bored with surfski padding and if/when you get into racing it will always be exciting as the different water conditions will play into the different strengths of the paddlers you are racing against. Below I will take a look at each of the key dimensions
Forward Stroke Technique
When paddling a surfski developing a good forward stroke technique is absolutely essential. Unlike traditional sea kayaks where you can get away with poor technique, the surfski will demand strong technique because it is so critical for stability.
In addition to the added stability, developing a good forward stroke technique will ensure that you are able to use your full body and maximize the power input from your major muscle groups. The catch (planting the blade in the water) and exit (pulling the blade out) will also require a high degree of finesse
Developing excellent core balance and strength is also a critical dimension to being an effective surfski paddler. Much like cross country skiing, the better your balance is, the more efficient a paddler you will be. If you have strong balance you’ll be able to put full power into your stroke and keep a constant cadence in any type of conditions. If your balance is not as developed, you’ll spend a lot of time using your paddle to brace and avoid tipping over and this will ultimately cost you a lot of speed
Your level of max power and endurance strength will also factor into your overall paddling performance. Max power is critical when sprinting to catch the wake of another boat in flat water racing and to catch swells when racing downwind in wave conditions. Endurance strength is necessary to maintain proper form throughout long distance paddles. Functional body weight exercises such as push ups, pull ups, planks and situps are some of the best strength training for paddling.
Cardiovascular (Lactate threshold / VO2 Max)
Because paddling is ultimately an aerobic sport, your cardiovascular conditioning will also play a major role in your overall performance. This is especially true the flatter the water conditions are.
Downwind Surfing Skills
As the waves pick up and you start racing downwind, forward stroke technique and cardiovascular conditioning become less critical and the ability to read the water and position the boat to gain the most advantage from the momentum of the waves becomes the deciding factor in who goes the fastest. Strong downwind paddlers will know how to pick the right waves and link from one wave to the next to keep their momentum going. Less experienced downwind paddlers are more likely to make mistakes and end up stalling the boat in the trough of waves. This causes you to lose all your momentum and slows down your average speed considerably
What really drew me into cross country skiing was that you had many of these same dimensions to work with. What I love even more about surfski paddling is that you have all these dimensions, and then some, plus no stress about snow fall, grooming, or waxing